[Community of A/V Enthusiasts]
I was an outlier among the Secrets team at the recent CEDIA 2011 meeting in Indianapolis as I was not assigned to spend the day moving from booth to booth to meet press reps, take photos of the new equipment, then quickly size-up the merits of the new offerings for the report on the website. Exactly how the staff has the energy to file the same day amazes me, but I am taking a slower pace to introduce a few items I found on the floor long after the rest of the staff moved on to other things. A couple more items will be added later.
I divided most of my time between CEDIA training classes (to be discussed in a forthcoming blog post) and scouring the floor for new technology. This year the 4th day of the show on Sunday was cancelled. I hope Sunday makes a comeback next year, but expect that will only happen when the home installation business has recovered. With only three days to review offerings of 450 companies, 50 of which were debuting at CEDIA, it was a daunting challenge to avoid missing the next big thing in audio. The Indianapolis Convention Center CEDIA show floor map is shown above. Over 400000 S.F. of exhibit space reduced to a width of 600 pixels.
The new trend on the floor (ignoring uses for smart phones and tablets) was a reflection of the material presented in the CEDIA No New Wires class that showcased how to do retrofits of home theaters and whole-house AV systems without touching the drywall. The interest by CEDIA installers in retrofitting houses comes as a result of the dramatic decrease in new housing starts.
Every house is a candidate for communication over power lines and wireless systems although these systems may not provide full HD depending on the system and the house layout. Surprisingly, systems adopting the most obvious candidate -- coax wiring used to route cable TV -- was the least represented on the floor. Instead, communication with CAT 5/6 twisted pairs from room to room got the nod as the most promising cabling system to work with. From the installers’ perspective, this was to be expected as much of the new home construction they have been involved with included twisted pairs in almost every room. Unfortunately most of the current housing stock does not CAT 5/6 running in the walls.
Other classes focused attention on the intricacies of interconnecting video sources and display devices with HDCP (High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection) being present on much of the HD source devices. The new “no new wires” backplane systems present new problems that can result in “green screens”. Specialized test equipment is often needed to diagnosis interconnect problems, especially when routers are present in the distribution system. The bottom line: “no new wires” does not translate to DIY.
While CEDIA may have a vested interest to promulgate that message, a vast amount of material presented in the educational and manufacture product training sessions pointed to reasons the claim may be legitimate. Copy protection with whole house distribution of audio did not appear to have the same kinds of problems the HD video installers are facing with HDCP.
Phase Technology and Induction Dynamics
Phase Technology is now 52 years old and still family operated. Bill Hecht who invented the first soft dome tweeter is chairman and Ken Hecht (photo below) is president. Ken is standing beside the PC line speakers, which retain the soft dome technology. I have the LCR under review at the present time.
In 2004, MultiService Electronics (MSE) made a strategic investment in Phase Technology, which was thought to be a good product-line extension from MSE’s Induction Dynamics speaker brand. The companies have been operating independently, but joined forces at CEDIA to present a single product for the first time.
Since 2007 Phase Technology has offered dARTS, a bi-amplified 7.2 speaker system using DSP crossovers and an integrated Audyssey room correction system with custom target curve. The electronics, including the sixteen amplifiers, are shoehorned in one box. Phase Technology dARTS speakers are available in a variety of sizes for in room, in wall, and custom built-in application. The largest Phase Technology dARTS speakers are LCR 2 ways with two 6.5 inch woofers and a dome tweeter. An updated version of the electronics was shown at CEDIA.
Induction Dynamics manufactures larger speakers with novel passive crossovers (fourth-order with transmission zeros to increase slope in the transition region). A new Induction Dynamics speaker designed to work with the dARTS electronics was shown at CEDIA. The speaker is designed for bi-amping (the midrange and tweeter preserve the passive crossover). DSP filter coefficients and target curves have been revamped to work properly with the Induction Dynamics speakers. The larger Induction Dynamics speakers are capable of higher SPL limits with accompanying higher price points than the dARTS speakers supplied by Phase Technology.
The new Induction Dynamics speakers associated with the ID dARTS system trades the inverted titanium dome common to its traditional offerings for a new soft dome as can be seen in the photo below. The in room floor standing unit is model number S1.8Td and the center is a C1.8d.
Like the Phase Technology dARTS speakers, the new Induction Dynamics dARTS speakers are also available for custom built-in applications. Given the significantly higher pricing of ID dARTS ($30000 – $50000), I expect most will be deployed as customized installs.
Speakers with large waveguides or horn loading are the preferred choice by companies at CEDIA demonstrating high SPL bi or tri amplified speaker systems in the five-figure price range. One must reach back to the 2007 DSP-based NHT Pro Theater system for a comparable. The NHT never made it to the showroom as NHT abandoned production of DSP speakers shortly thereafter. Whether larger cone-based ID dARTS system provides a more realistic musical experience remains an open issue as most of the demo was monopolized by movies at high SPLs, and a rock concert video at even higher SPLs. If the show had extended to Sunday, as it did last year, the room would have cleared out so I could have auditioned the ID dARTS with my own source material at lower SPLs.
Jeff Hipps stands next to the Theta Compli Blu universal player and Casablanca Pre/Pro in the photo below.
Jeff recently joined ATI after a long tenure at Sherwood where he moved the company into the high end (Newcastle brand) with the well-regarded P 965/A 965 pre/pro and power amp pair. One of the final products under his direction was the R-972 AVR that included the Trinnov room optimization system. The multiyear development effort reconfigured the $15,000 Trinnov electronics to operate in TI DSP. The outcome was a complete AVR under $2,000. Sherwood was AWOL at the show, so I do not know what new products the company is introducing. We will have to wait for CES.
Jeff announced that Theta and B&K products will be available with the Dirac room-correction system. Dirac Research separately demonstrated the PC-based portion of the room-correction system (like most high-end room-correction, filter coefficients are calculated on the PC and downloaded to the electronics). The Dirac user interface appeared to be well thought out allowing target curves and correction range limitations to be easily modified. Mathias Johansson, Dirac Research CEO and CTO had a white paper at the show which explained the filter design methodology for the room EQ but it is not up on the Dirac website yet. Determining how well it works in a real room must wait until the software and hardware are finalized and ready to ship.
B&K was merged into the ATI group last year. ATI did not have a replacement Pre/Pro ready for display at this year’s show hence Dirac enabled B&K products are likely a year off.
Peter Lyngdorf has been involved with room correction and switching power amplifiers for many years. The company he currently owns goes by the name Lyngdorf Audio. Individual components form Lyngdorf Audio are currently available at nearly twenty high-end dealers in the US. A larger US distribution network managed by the speaker company Triad ended a few years ago.
The collaboration with Steinway involves the development of very high-end vertically-integrated systems running from disc players to speakers. They are different from the products sold by Lyngdorf Audio. The photo below Peter Lyngdorf standing next to the Model D system (speaker on the left and electronic rack on the right) which costs $150,000
At the New York Axpona show in June, Lyngdorf brought a $20,000 in-room stereo system with a much smaller bipolar speaker as part of a complete system called the S-Series. Listening to it near the rear walls, I felt the technology appeared promising.
The expanded multichannel S-Series system demonstrated at CEDIA starts at $50,000. Both the front firing in wall and bipolar freestanding bookshelf units are shown in the photo below. They were demonstrating a 7.4 deployment of the S-Series in a large enclosed listening space at the center of the floor.
Exactly how it sounded I do not know. I used my appointment time to chat with Peter about his novel bass management for multichannel systems. Lyngdorf even had a white board in a back office room to make it easier to frame the issues. Unfortunately, just as we were getting beyond the basics, the press person pulled Lyngdorf away so he could move on to his next appointment. With so much to see and do within a compressed three-day schedule, I was unable to return to hear the system.
SimpliFi Audio distributer of the DSPeaker, Klangwerk and PSI Audio speaker brands
Scanning through the 450 exhibitors one final time to ensure I had not overlooked anyone revealed some significant drop-outs like Dolby and Genelec and couple new prospects like SimpliFi. Given the haste at which the company arrived, I would classify it as a just-in-time exhibitor.
The photo is SimpliFi’s small booth at the rear of the hall. It had just enough room for a chair to be positioned in front of the speakers at a distance similar to a home setup. The relative isolation of the booth within the hall permitted one to listen even with the lack of enclosure.
SimpliFi Audio is a distributer of equipment for a variety of European equipment and imports active speakers from four different manufactures. In the professional speaker world, new offerings are almost universally active, but in the home market, exclusive of near-field speakers for the PC, speakers are passive. Attempts to sell active-field in-room speakers, even by successful companies like Paradigm and NHT, have withered despite glowing reviews because dealers are unable to sell profitable “extras” such as external amplifiers and speaker cables.
Systems designed for custom home theaters, such as the ID dART system discussed above, sometimes employ active speakers. The best custom installers know they will never match the quality of a professional film-mixing studio by taking using passive speakers.
SimpliFi hopes to have better luck by directly offering some of the speakers (the site is www.hometrialaudio.com). The last-minute CEDIA display indicates SimpliFi recently thought of custom installers as another productive distribution channel. Unfortunately, currency exchange and import fees push prices well above where they the speakers sell at the point of origination.
The tower speaker on the outside edge of the photo is a $4,000 Finish DSPeaker. You are looking at the back of the speaker. As the name implies, it uses a DSP crossover designed to provide a linear phase response. Room mode correction to 150Hz is possible and a microphone is included. The drivers are a 6.5inch woofer and dome tweeter in a special waveguide. The website has useful technical information.
The black floor-standing speakers facing forward are from PSI Audio. It is hard to see them with the black carpet in the background. This Swiss company has produced active speakers using analog crossovers for the professional community for many years. The black floor standers are PSI Audio’s first attempts at a home speaker. Called the A215-M, they have two 5.5 inch woofers and a tweeter in a waveguide. The crossovers contains all-pass filters that enable a linear phase response above 200Hz.
The spec sheet resembles a professional speaker with graphs for distortion and radiation patterns. Vertical radiation patterns show excellent vertical distribution. The horizontal radiation patterns also look good, perhaps a byproduct of the waveguide shape and low crossover frequency to the tweeter that active speakers allow. I listened to them for an uninterrupted 15 minutes (SimpliFi’s late entry cost it floor traffic on the first day) using my own test material on a custom CD. They were promising, even in this suboptimal environment. The $7,000 price reflects US dollar weakness and import fees.
The white in-room and on-wall speakers in the center of the booth are from Klangwerk of Switzerland. The white fronts are said to be artificial stone. Only the largest speaker, called the Ella, are active. It is a three-way with a small woofer on either side priced at $15,000. PSI Audio developed the electronics, but the drivers are different sourced by Klangwerk . Compact speakers above $10,000 may be more appropriate for the EU market with smaller room sizes. In the US, I can imagine them in a high six-figure whole-house custom install, perhaps in the library room.
SimpliFi also distributes the larger Gradient speakers (Finland), which are also available in active versions. The Gradients were not shown at CEDIA.
Datasat is known for its products for the film industry and was introducing its first product for the home market at CEDIA. The offering is similar to products from Trinnov and JBL Synthesis that are to be placed between a Pre/Pro and power amp in advanced home theaters. These units are equipped with advanced room correction, manually EQ adjustments, crossover filters for bi- and tri-amplification and advanced bass management. The HDMI inputs of the Datasat are a welcome addition because the HDMI inputs eliminates the redundant DAC/ADC conversion. The photo is from the company literature; none was available taken at the CEDIA booth.
The HDMI inputs are compatible with LPCM, DTS up to lossless DTS-HD Master Audio, but only Dolby AC3. The vendor could not clearly explain why the unit cannot decode Dolby lossless data streams. The video on the HDMI is pass-through only.
The room-correction system is by Dirac Research. Dirac also supplies room correction for the ATI products discussed above, although the differences may exist in the filter banks and thus the coefficient loaded into the hardware. The Datasat ships with twelve channels of Dirac Live room correction, and sixteen will be forthcoming.
The HDMI inputs obviate a Pre/Pro. That said, the RS20i is not a perfect substitute for a Pre/Pro because it the comprehensive laundry list of features such as sound synthesis modes, volume normalization systems, audio interfaces to pad and pods, etc. There is an up-market display on the front panel but, in most cases, this is likely to be obscured when nestled in the equipment rack.
All I/Os are on DB25 connectors as shown above. There are sixteen assignable channels of AES/EBU and four HDMI inputs. Eight channels of analog inputs are also on one of the DB25 connectors. Two stereo inputs on RCA jacks are on the right. Sixteen analog output channels supply bi- and tri-amplification. The remaining sixteen channels of AES/EBU digital outputs could be connected directly to active speakers. It is not clear if these mute when HDCP copy protection is present on the HDMI input. Doing so would dilute their utility. Depending on system configuration, Trinnov offers the option to select the number of analog and digital I/Os (they are separate cards on the back of the unit) to save money. JBL Synthesis also offers two units with a different number of I/Os. For JBL, the I/O’s are restricted to analog.
Yamaha R-S700 Stereo Receiver
This is a $550 product that deserves attention. The photo is from the company’s website.
To avoid overwhelming each company’s press representatives, the Secrets management tries to schedule a single booth tour for all reporters on the floor. The Yamaha booth tour was not on my schedule, but is covered by others on the Secrets staff. I did stop by to say hello to the press rep and then should have moved on. However, I lingered a bit longer because some stereo units way at the bottom of the display caught my eye. These were not a debut product (the press release is a year old), but were new to CEDIA because Yamaha did not present last year.
The units have been restyled with a retro-70s look. Like muscle cars, the styling of circa-1970 solid-state audio equipment is a hot commodity as evidenced by pricing of vintage equipment on eBay. Putting aside the aesthetics -- function usually matters more than form – the units have been upgraded with a digitally-controlled volume control. The unreliable analog control, with its motorized remote control, is gone. The selector switch is also just a knob to control CMOS switches at the back of the unit.
The four thin rectangular knobs (balance, treble, bass and loudness) are analog, but they are bypassed at a touch of the direct button. Unique to Yamaha, this feature includes the balance control. My upcoming Harman Kardon HD 990 integrated amplifier review will explain the importance of the bypass. To my knowledge, no one else produces a stereo unit with an analog control-free signal path at this price point.
I have not studied $500 Yamaha stereo equipment since the 1990s, but was impressed with those units. I cannot opine on the quality of the current electronics just yet. The Yamaha R-S700 would have jumped to the top on my list of units to review but Kieran Coghlan got at it first. The review went up Monday. I still plan to look into the internals as soon as I get a schematic. A supplement to Kieran's review should appear soon.